ST. PETERSBURG — The photo of her laughing, with her head thrown back, sat just to the right of the urn at the front of the church.
That was Janet Larson all right. The Scottish matriarch to five generations who died last week at age 109.
She was a tall woman, with big hands and big feet. But it was her big laugh that kept many family and friends smiling at her funeral Friday at Our Savior Lutheran Church.
"I never saw her in a bad mood,'' said Eddie Albert, 47, of Jacksonville, who is married to one of her granddaughters, Rose. "I never saw the woman angry.''
"Her laughter is one thing I'll never forget,'' said granddaughter Sally Guy, 41, of Ontario. "It was this deep belly laugh. It was contagious.''
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Janet came to the United States at 16 as an indentured servant as World War I was getting under way. From Ellis Island in New York, she moved to Chicago, where she worked off her bond in five years.
Those who loved her say she had an unusual zest for living.
She loved to exercise and received a free membership to Shapes Total Fitness Center for Women at age 100.
She loved to shop. If a place opened nearby, Janet was there.
When her 70-year-old Gulfport neighbor struggled to reach oranges at the top of the trees in her yard, Janet came over carrying a ladder. She was 90.
"She was fearless,'' said Frances O'Reilly, 89. "Stupendous.''
"Oh, I've had a grand time in this country,'' Janet told the Times in a 1995 article. "I met my first husband while working for the Hershey candy people and helped my second husband operate fishing camps in Ohio and Michigan (and Canada). My third husband, Elmer, died in Gulfport in 1977.''
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People often asked Janet the secret to her longevity.
One of her closest friends, Arlene Wilbur, 89, said years ago a university even tried to work out a deal to study Janet's brain after she died.
Her grandchildren said she memorized poems to keep her mind sharp. She used natural remedies — like bee stings to her arthritic knees — to keep old age at a bay. She avoided processed foods. She took vitamins.
"She used to take Vitamin E for her skin and ginkgo biloba (the memory supplement) until she couldn't remember it,'' Albert said. "That was one of her little sayings.''
Laughter, everyone agreed, certainly helped stretch her years.
Janet Larson died in her sleep at the nursing home where she had been for the past 18 months.
At her funeral, the Rev. Erich Heintzen comforted her mourners: "Finally after almost 110 years in this world, the Lord came and took her home. All of you who knew Janet know that was a happy day for her.''
Melanie Ave can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8813.